What are Protozoan Infections?

Vulnerable chinchillas are easily infected because of their living conditions, a high level of stress, and the quality of their nutrition. If your chinchilla becomes sick with an illness you can’t identify, your vet should be seen in order to provide a diagnosis and the most appropriate forms of treatment. Your chinchilla’s symptoms may range from gastrointestinal effects to neurological and central nervous system involvement. With some protozoa-caused illnesses, you may not even be aware your chinchilla is sick. He may die unexpectedly without showing any symptoms.

Once your vet has diagnosed your chinchilla as suffering from an illness caused by protozoan infestation, treatment can be offered.

Protozoa are single-cell parasitic organisms that enter the bodies of animals, such as chinchillas. Your chinchilla may eat animal feces infested with different types of protozoa and, shortly afterward, become ill.

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Symptoms of Protozoan Infections in Chinchillas

After your chinchilla has been exposed to protozoa, he will develop several different symptoms, depending on the type of protozoan infestation:

Giardia:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea that seems to lessen, then firm up
  • Fur loss (different from fur slip)
  • Irritability
  • Half-closed eyes, appear dull
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Not as sociable 
  • Refusal to eat (in late stage of illness)
  • Uncontrollable head movements
  • Labored breathing, seems to gulp in air
  • Death

Toxoplasma gondii:

  • May develop necrotic meningoencephalitis (destruction of brain tissue)

Frenkelia spp:

  • Meningitis symptoms

Cryptosporidium spp:

  • Gastroenteritis symptoms
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Rectal prolapse

Causes of Protozoan Infections in Chinchillas

Protozoal infestation may occur after an animal’s exposure to infected feces or other materials. Conditions that may increase a chinchilla’s risk of contracting an infection include:

  • High level of stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Vulnerable immune system (as in ill or very young pets)
  • Recent weaning

Diagnosis of Protozoan Infections in Chinchillas

As soon as you realize your chinchilla is sick, take him to your vet. She’ll observe his behaviors and give him a physical exam. If your chinchilla has diarrhea in the exam room, the vet will test samples of the feces. Examining fresh feces makes it much easier for your vet to develop the most accurate diagnosis of your chinchilla’s illness. The lab will run several tests, including direct fecal smears and fecal flotation (in which the parasite’s cysts float to the top of a special solution).

In some cases, your vet may only be able to make a final diagnosis by performing a necropsy on your pet. Hemorrhagic lungs, enlarged mesenteric lymph nodes and an enlarged spleen and necrotic meningoencephalitis may be observed and provide evidence of a protozoan infection.

Treatment of Protozoan Infections in Chinchillas

After forming a diagnosis, your vet is able to prescribe the most appropriate medications for the affected chinchilla. Every chinchilla that may have come into contact with your ill pet should also be treated prophylactically to keep them from becoming sick.The cysts will continue spreading infection for several weeks after the initial infection began. A cool and humid environment allows the cysts to remain infectious.

Other treatments may be prescribed or suggested. These include vitamin C and lactobacillus acidophilus (yogurt), which helps to keep the levels of beneficial gut bacteria high to promote a healthy immune system and normal digestive function and to prevent dehydration. Be sure to follow your vet’s recommendations for administering supplements along with medication in order to preserve their beneficial effects. 

Your vet may also give your chinchilla fluids via IV solution. Once you get him home, you’ll have to continue getting him to take fluids by mouth.

Recovery of Protozoan Infections in Chinchillas

Protozoan infestations are extremely serious, causing significant illness in your chinchilla. Without immediate veterinary care, the prognosis for recovery may be poor. 

If you suspect an illness such as toxoplasmosis or giardiasis, don’t try to treat your chinchilla at home. He needs expert veterinary care, which should be started as early in his illness as possible. If you’re able to obtain early veterinary care, he will be much more likely to recover and go home.

While he is hospitalized, clean the cage completely and disinfect it. Remove and throw away all bedding, wooden items, dust bath, water, and food. Replace everything with new bedding, food, water and other items so your chinchilla (and other chinchillas in your herd) won’t become sick.